No team had dominated the European scene quite like Germany in the lead up to the 2017 Euros, having won six consecutive titles between 1995 and 2013.
But the length of their hegemony over the continental scene meant the end of their run in July 2017 was too painful for most associated with the set-up to stomach.
They had never previously missed out on a Euros semi-final and were expected to reach another when Isabel Kerschowski’s emphatic finish gave them an early lead over Denmark in the 2017 quarter-final in Rotterdam.
Germany’s dominance at the Euros ended in 2017 with a shock defeat against Denmark
Steffi Jones’ side were on the end of a shock result following goals from Nadia Nadim and Theresa Nielsen
Germany had won six consecutive titles between 1995 and 2013 heading into the tournament
GERMANY’S RECORD AT THE EUROS
1984: Did not qualify
1987: Did not qualify
1993: Fourth place
But Steffi Jones’ side were sluggish from then on and were soon enough on the end of a shock result following Nadia Nadim’s leveller and Theresa Nielsen’s late header.
It was only Germany’s third loss in regulation time in the history of the competition, and like most the manager seemed to be at a loss to explain just what had gone wrong.
‘You ask yourself what went wrong and what we didn’t understand after the group games,’ Jones said. Of course, being left so dumbfounded could simply be a result of the stunning manner in which they had lost their grip on the Euros.
They were champions for 8,162 days, winning the first of their six straight titles in March 1995. Of the 40 Euros matches they had played in that period, they had won 31, scoring 93 goals in the process and conceding just 24.
Germany had not lost a knockout match in the competition since July 1993, when they suffered defeat in the third-place play-off, also against Denmark.
It was therefore left to goalkeeper Almuth Schult to deliver a more poignant assessment of just what had gone wrong, with the game having to be rescheduled for 11am on a Sunday after torrential rain fell on the Saturday night.
‘Our aggressiveness and conviction was lacking,’ she said. ‘It is disappointing how this elimination came about.
‘When you have a rhythm for weeks and then need to warm up at 11 o’clock, that is quite a disaster.’
That aggression is just part of what Germany have tried to re-discover in the five years since under the guidance of Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, the four-time Euros winner as a player hired in 2018 to rebuild the national team.
Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, the four-time Euros winner was hired in 2018 to rebuild the national team following Steffi Jones’ departure
Of course, they still historically remain Europe’s most successful women’s national team despite their shock quarter-final reverse five years ago, having won eight titles in total.
But for the first time since the lead-up to the 1995 tournament, there are doubts as to whether Germany have fine-tuned their skills sufficiently to be able to challenge the favourites for the main prize, this year including England and Spain.
The latter of course will face Germany in this year’s group stages, and with Finland also in there it could be termed ‘the group of death’. But Voss-Tecklenburg prefers to look at potential positives.
‘Maybe that [the draw] is a good thing because it means we’ll have to start well and perform right from the off. With these opponents, we have some great challenges ahead of us.’
Germany still historically remain the most successful women’s national team in Euros history
Their margin for error therefore is likely to be minimal if they want to reclaim their crown. But a lack of consistency still appears to be bedeviling their attempts to return to the heights they had set during a 22-year period.
True, they coasted through their Euros qualification group with a 100 per cent record, winning Group I games home and away against Ukraine, Republic of Ireland, Greece and Montenegro.
Arsenal’s Katie McCabe was the only player to score past Germany in qualification, and that too from the penalty spot, while Voss-Tecklenburg’s side put eight past Ukraine twice and 10 past Montenegro at home on their way to netting 46 goals in total.
Their most recent qualification campaign for a major tournament – for next year’s World Cup began much like the Euros equivalent. A 7-0 victory against Bulgaria and putting eight past Turkey were the highlights of a perfect return from their opening seven games of the group.
They scored 34 goals and conceded just two. But Germany’s weaknesses were then overwhelmingly exposed during a 3-2 defeat by Serbia.
Germany cruised through their Euros qualifying group, thrashing the likes of Ukraine
Instead of winning the ball back quickly, Germany had their lines broken by simple vertical passes. They showed a lack of composure in possession, and ultimately they paid the price for individual errors. Voss-Tecklenburg was in no mood to hide behind excuses. ‘That was really bad,’ she said.
‘All the factors that would have been important were not there. Now we have to brush ourselves off, work hard, not despair and address the issues.’ Sadly that isn’t the only one.
Germany have not beaten sides like Spain, Canada or England in 2022 and had they have played anything like they did against Serbia against those sides, the consequences could have been worse.
Their route to winning the title this time will not only see them face Spain in Group B but also a potential clash with England at the quarter-final stage, providing Sarina Wiegman’s side top Group A and Germany finish second in their group.
That is not to suggest however that there is no belief in Voss-Tecklenburg and the changes she has implemented since the former Switzerland manager took over.
Their qualification campaign for the World Cup is also going well but they lost to Serbia
The most significant of those changes has been a systematic switch, brought about after yet more tournament pain, this time at the World Cup three years ago.
Again Germany had not looked troubled, having not conceded a single goal in the tournament prior to their quarter-final against Sweden, and a clear path to the final in France had seemingly come into view for the two-time world champions.
Again, they took the lead with an acrobatic Lina Magull pass, but just like at the 2017 Euros they saw the game in Rennes turned on its head by Sofia Jakobsson and now Arsenal forward Stina Blackstenius.
The relentless German pressure to try and avoid another painful defeat never came, and Voss-Tecklenburg appeared to decide in a post-tournament debrief a 4-3-3 system – rather than a 4-4-2 – was required.
Germany also lost in last eight at their major tournament, losing to Sweden at the World Cup
In theory, it allows a more flexible and interchangeable forward line and allow the full-backs to support the attacks better.
Moreover, when they did concede pressure it in theory allows the switch to pressing from the front. The speed of Lea Schueller for example – who has been compared to Marco Reus – is therefore a fine fit in the system.
And that is without mentioning her obvious goalscoring prowess, which helped her be voted the national team’s 2021 Player of the Year by fans and which has continued into 2022 with Bayern Munich.
Svenja Huth’s creativity and leadership out wide or through the middle remains vital but Hoffenheim’s Jule Brand and Wolfsburg’s Tabea Wassmuth are the younger options who can perhaps supplement Schueller’s good work in attack.
Lea Schueller (left) – who has been compared to Marco Reus – is a fine fit in the current system
The Bayern Munich striker was voted the national team’s 2021 Player of the Year by fans
The counter press is part of the fast-paced style that Voss-Tecklenburg wants across the field, with relentless running, aggression in the tackle and runs in behind the opposition defence which appear to be the core values of the system.
But arguably the area where it would cause the biggest shake-up was in midfield, upon whom there is plenty of responsibility to provide technical quality to those in front. Luckily Germany are well covered in that position.
Sara Dabritz – one of seven players to survive from the 2017 Euros – is therefore perfect for the role, an expert at foiling chances being created with her movement, which also is a crucial part in building attacks.
Lina Magull is the typical dogged deep-lying midfielder whose excellent positioning provides a solid barrier in front of the back four, while Lenas Lattwein and Oberdorf are other midfield options.
Germany captain Alexandra Popp has not even been mentioned yet, demonstrating the depth and the mix of youth and experience within the squad, having for years struggled to find that balance after failing to plug the gaps left by those retiring.
Schuller (left) and Sara Dabritz (right) are two central cogs in Voss-Tecklenburg’s system
But while that balance has been found on paper, it does not appear yet to have fully translated to the pitch in tournament football.
No doubt Covid rampaging through the camp did not help, but the Arnold Clark Cup demonstrated their shortcomings off the ball and keeping their cool when being pressurised deep in their own half.
Voss-Tecklenburg saw 14 players affected by Covid during the tournament, but instead of complaining stuck to drilling her ideals into replacements and ‘identify with them.’
But ahead of the Euros she has been far more demanding, insisting reaching the last four of the tournament should be Germany’s minimum objective.
They have been an ever-present at the Euros since 1997, when the first edition with a group stage was played, and are now enduring their longest run without a major title since 1989.
A 7-0 thrashing of Switzerland on Friday in a friendly suggests they can continue their excellent form against the best of the rest.
For that to end, they now need all the different parts Voss-Tecklenburg has worked on over the years to come together to challenge the favourites for the tournament.
But Germany have struggled against the best sides like Spain and England in recent times